The Girl of Fire and Thorns is another one of those books that just kept getting recommended to me, and I kept putting off reading it because there are too many YAs in my pile already. I finally picked it up on a whim, and now I can say: Yes, you were all right, it's not half bad at all.
Elisa is the less attractive younger princess, the underdog princess if you will, who's one shining trait is that she was gifted with the Godstone--an extremely rare mystical gift. This means that she has some big an important task to complete, though she has no idea what, and she definitely doesn't feel up to the challenge. Elisa is married off to a foreign king in secret, and shuffled off to his kingdom where supposedly she'll be safer. Instead, she is swept up in a war, made an unlikely leader, and has her faith and her abilities tested again and again.
The characterization of Elisa struck more than one cord with me. He lack of self confidence and general awkwardness could have made her pathetic, but instead they make her easier to like. She's also a stress eater...not just fat, not just unfortunately pudgy by genetic design, but a character who deals with stress by stuffing herself sick. Who among us doesn't know someone with that particular problem? Yet it rarely gets written about with such honesty, unless the book is specifically about eating disorders. So bravo, Rae Carson, for giving your fantasy heroine real life flaws.
I liked the plot and all of the fantasy elements it incorporated. The magic that's used is kept simple, which is nice because it means the author didn't have to info-dump in order to keep us informed. The reality of the Godstone creates an honest purpose for our heroine, as well as a dilemma as she struggles to identify what God wants from her.
I thought that the faith element of the book was very interesting. Interesting, for example, that a heroine with clear, indisputable proof of God's existence could still go through a crisis of faith. As a whole, the book handles the question of religion simplistically, but hints at a larger scope that I would like to see more of.
I was a little disappointed by how Elisa's "marriage" was handled, and the characterization of the Alejandro overall. I say "marriage" in quotes because it is absolutely just a plot device that amounts to no human connection whatsoever. They never consummate their union (I guess that doesn't matter in this culture?), they never have more than a handful of interactions, and it's all pretty meaningless. It felt like the author just really wanted her heroine to be the queen, but also to remain a virgin and available for any romantic connections she may have planned for future books. It came across to me as contrived. Furthermore, it was disappointing because I really wanted to understand Alejandro's character better, but he sort of ends up as a secondary character at best.
This is a good young adult novel for those who prefer "classic" style fantasy. The heroine is highly sympathetic, the plot is engrossing, and the end will leave you wanting more. 4 stars.